Places: Anna Karenina

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1875-1877 (English translation, 1886)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Moscow

*Moscow. Anna KareninaTraditional capital and largest city of Russia, in which the novel opens in the prosperous, comfortable home of Stepan Arkadievich Oblonsky, Anna’s brother. The whole household, including five children and a complex structure of servants, suffer from the turmoil caused by Oblonsky’s secret indiscretion with his children’s governess. Gradually Tolstoy portrays other families and their households, showing their beliefs, life styles, and consequently the level of harmony and happiness or the lack of it.

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Capital of Imperial Russia and rival of Moscow as Russia’s chief social and cultural center. While Moscow is the more traditional, more religious, and more Russian, St. Petersburg is more European and more avant-garde. The novel’s protagonists spend considerable time in both cities. When the novel opens, Anna and Karenin’s household is in St. Petersburg; later, Anna moves to Count Vronsky’s home in Moscow.

Leo Tolstoy depicts the easy, idle lives of Russia elite society in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Members of the elite are “infected” by modern ideas coming from the West and corroding natural and healthy family life. They spend most of their time in parlors, ballrooms, clubs and restaurants, horse tracks, ice skating rinks, and other pleasure centers that the book portrays as the Sodom and Gomorrah of their time. In these places, people gossip, flirt with one another, drink, gamble, and engage in debauchery and kill one another in duels–all to combat the emptiness and boredom of their lives. Meanwhile, governesses, nurses, valets, cooks, coachmen, and other servants are responsible for raising their children and tending their households.

To Tolstoy, cities, as sites of civilization and corruption, deviate from the natural, healthy lives of the working class, whose members are truly religious. The educated, the nihilists, the atheists, and the agnostics often choose lives of “worldly” pleasures, often based on vanity, greed, lust, gluttony, sloth, bigotry, and prejudice.

Levin estate

Levin estate. Country home of Konstantin Levin, who–in contrast to Anna and Vronsky–dislikes cities. Although from a Moscow family, he lives on his estate, away from the city, actively working his farm. The beauty of nature and his search for the meaning of life lead him to God and a feeling of complete happiness with life. His choice of the right mate, unlike Anna’s and Vronsky’s, is not based on physical passion. Levin and Kitty have much in common: their upbringing, value systems, and life philosophies. Through marriage and parenthood their love deepens and matures.

Railway station

Railway station. Moscow station in which Anna and Vronsky meet amid the confusion of a bloody accident. The same station is later the site of Anna’s suicide under the wheels of a monstrous freight train, which symbolizes the impersonal blindness and unnaturalness of Anna and Vronsky’s obsessive lust.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Leo Tolstoy. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. This book contains essays by R. P. Blackmur and Barbara Hardy. The former explores the way Tolstoy exposes his characters to ambiguity, studies their society and its manners, and discusses the nature of Anna’s tragedy. The latter emphasizes Tolstoy’s vivid realism, his superb handling of the flow of time, and the intricate and deft way he populates his novels with characters. Chronology and bibliography included.Jones, Malcolm, ed. New Essays on Tolstoy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1978. In “Problems of Communication,” Jones explores Tolstoy’s amazing sense of physical presence and gesture and how previous critics have treated it.Knowles, A. V., ed. Tolstoy: The Critical Heritage. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. This book contains contemporary Russian reviews of the novel from 1875 to 1877. Includes a bibliography and an appendix with Russian literary and historical references.Morson, Gary Saul. Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely. New Haven: Yale, 2007. A thoroughly researched and wonderfully written examination of Anna Karenina that argues that the issues the novel raises are more relevant today than they were when Tolstoy wrote about them. Morson does an excellent job of placing the work in its historical and literary context and of raising ideas that require further reflection from the readers.Rowe, William W. Leo Tolstoy. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Chapter 5 treats the novel as Tolstoy’s finest and traces how he developed the idea for it. Detailed discussion of structure. Separate sections on different themes and literary techniques in the novel, such as Anna’s “guilt,” Levin and Kitty, and foreshadowing. Chronology, notes, and bibliography included.Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy. London: H. Hamilton, 1988. A full-scale biography. Chapter 12 delves into the gestation and development of the novel, its structural cohesiveness, and its scenes of intimacy. Notes and bibliography included.
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